The Neuroscience of Frustration
In late 2021, we partnered with Loqate, an address verification and geocoding company who specialise in helping eCommerce businesses to deliver.
As a consumer there's nothing worse than buying something online only for it to fail to arrive. Loqate wanted to better understand the frustration that people feel when companies let down their customers and so we partnered with the psychology department at Goldsmiths University to do a high density EEG experiment to get to the bottom of it.
Frustration describes the emotion that we feel when we are trying to reach a certain goal, but find that our progress is thwarted. We may merely be delayed by the obstacle that prevents us from reaching our objective, but sometimes we can find ourselves permanently derailed.
This study involved wiring people up with high density EEG electrodes and getting them to evaluate a wide range of frustrating scenarios, both retail and non-retail in nature, in terms of how frustrating the situations were, how often that type of event happens in their everyday life and how likely they would be to persevere in trying to reach their goal despite the frustrating turn of events.
The EEG results involved a 20% increase in gamma power across the left and right frontotemporal lobe (brain areas behind the temple) and a strong frontal alpha asymmetry indicative of repulsion during the high frustration vs low frustration scenarios. We used this as objective evidence to support the idea that people find these kinds of situations extremely aversive and would be likely to take steps to avoid such an unpleasant experience in the future.
Three of the top ten most frustrating scenarios involved problems with waiting in for a delivery only for it to not arrive for one reason or another. In post-experimental interviews participants described how powerless it makes them feel to find themselves in such situations and mentioned that such frustrating experiences are made worse by the fact that they know they will be inconvenienced twice - once on the day of the failed delivery and then again to stay in for the rearranged delivery.
Clearly, any company that wants to retain its customer base would be well advised to do everything in their power to ensure that goods purchased online reach their destination smoothly, because powerful emotions like frustration can lead to huge resentment.
NeuroFormed Ltd provided project management services, operating as the interface between the PR company running the campaign - Don't Cry Wolf - and the academic partners at Goldsmith helping to design the study so that it fitted the business needs and ensuring that the results were disseminated to the world in plain English.
The main results of the study were packaged as an easy to grasp multi-chapter asset on the client's own website and in addition to the primary goal of communication through business-to-business media, it was deemed of sufficient interest to the general public to be picked up by numerous regional news sites.